Bebe Barron 1925-2008

Electronic music pioneer Bebe Barron died on April 20th aged 82. She was best known for the score to the sci-fi classic The Forbidden Planet which she wrote with her husband Louis. Notoriously, this brought the couple into conflict with the American Federation of Musicians. Since they weren’t members, the union forced MGM to change the credits from “Electronic Music by Louis and Bebe Barron” to “Electronic Tonalities by Louis and Bebe Barron” which deprived the soundtrack of a chance to be nominated for a deserved Oscar. The music, composed using electronics, tapes and theremin, is widely considered to be groundbreaking today, but the experience left the couple disillusioned with Hollywood, and they never did any more work for the studios (although they continued to score small, independent, arthouse films).

Bebe Barron was born Charlotte Wind on June 16th 1925 in Minneapolis. She studied music in Chicago where she met Louis. They married in 1947 and among their wedding gifts was a tape recorder. Their experiments with magnetic tape came to fruition in 1950 with Heavenly Menagerie. Generally Louis was the technician, spending most of his time, soldering iron in hand, designing, building and modifying circuit boards to create sounds. Bebe was in charge of the compositional side – cutting, splicing, looping and arranging the endless spools of tape recordings of Louis’s gadgets and gizmos. She is credited with the invention of the tape loop.

The couple opened up a pioneering studio in New York in 1949 (believed to be the first electronic music studio in America), and their work was soon noticed by the city’s avant-garde. They worked with John Cage on his Williams Mix in 1952/3. It was Cage who convinced the sceptical Barrons that their efforts were music, and not just academic audio experiments.

The couple divorced in 1970, but continued to work together. Their working methods were unchanged by the digital revolution. Louis died in 1989. Bebe composed her last work in 2000 – a piece called Mixed Emotions that was commissioned by Santa Barbara University.

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